The scent of burgers and hot dogs carried by charcoal smoke along with the prospect of many fun activities drew a good crowd to a park shelter in Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park the evening of Aug. 13.
This was the third annual Youth Pride event for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and teens who are questioning their sexual orientation.
“It’s just really a great event on so many levels,” said Jefferson Fietek, event coordinator and teacher at Anoka Middle School for the Arts. “I love seeing the community pulling together. When you come here, you see a good cross-section of Anoka County.”
The Youth Pride event started in 2011 in response to the 2010 suicide of Justin Aaberg and several other gay teenagers in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.
“Justin’s Gift” t-shirts were a visible reminder of the origin story of this event. Justin’s Gift presented the event, which was sponsored by UCare, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) of Anoka, First Congregational Anoka and Anoka Hennepin Gay Equity Team.
Thanks to this support, Justin’s Gift was able to supply free food and not charge any event admission.
The wide open spaces by the park shelter allowed plenty of room for kickball, volleyball, relay races and various other fun activities including face painting and a craft table.
The event was mostly geared toward middle school and high school students. There was no formal acknowledgment scheduled of the state’s decision to legalize gay marriage, but a couple of people when asked talked about it.
Colleen Cashen, a board member for Justin’s Gift and a psychologist and school counselor at Dayton and Johnsville elementary schools and Northdale Middle School, said it is “another statement of validation of all our relationships. It makes a difference in their self-esteem.”
According to Fietek, the new law is also an affirmation for children of gay and lesbian parents that their families are valid.
All ages were welcome at the Youth Pride event, however, and there were several information booths with people ready to answer questions or raffle off prizes.
At one table for Element-Mental Health Services in St. Cloud, small rubber ducks were being given to those who could answer a question such as what are two forms of bullying.
“I think it’s great that (this event) is in this area that’s gotten so much negative attention about bullying and that there are people willing to stick their neck out and make positive change,” said Troy Weber-Brown, who is Element’s co-owner and wears many hats including mental health program director.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org